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Charity Fundraising Events Business For Good

How one charity unlocked the global power of online events

By Mark Hamilton, Head of Marketing EMEA , Social Good and Business Equality


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May 12, 2021 | 5 min read

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With many mass events cancelled or postponed in 2020, charities faced a major fundraising challenge. But Run in the Dark shows that taking an event online isn’t just a back-up – it’s a new way to thrive.

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How one charity unlocked the global power of online events

When the Covid-19 pandemic canceled major fitness events across the world, the Mark Pollock Trust faced an urgent challenge. For 9 years, Run in the Dark has been raising money to cure paralysis in partnership with the spinal cord injury charity.

Held in mid-November, Run in the Dark sees some 25,000 people lace up their shoes for a 5k or 10k at events across seven continents. Participants fundraise or donate to Collaborative Cures project, the mission of which is to bring people together to cure paralysis in our lifetimes.

A challenging year

Previous events have raised hundreds of thousands of euros and are the main source of donations to the project. So when coronavirus meant 2020’s fundraiser couldn’t go ahead as planned, finding an alternative way to harness the power of Run in the Dark’s global community was vital.

Mark Pollock and his team reached out to Facebook for help, and, working with the Mobileworks for Good project, built an alternative campaign around a new event: Run in the Dark Virtual.

“Instead of focusing on the emotional side of the equation – the upset and panic about what this meant for our principal fundraiser – we turned our attention to accepting that there are some things we cannot control and focusing on what we could control and our choices in this new environment,” said Paula Cunniffe, the chief exec of Run in the Dark.

Keeping moving

Facebook’s Mobileworks for Good program helps businesses, in partnership with Nonprofits, to create best in class, mobile-optimized campaigns.

For Run in the Dark, the team worked with production agency and Facebook Marketing Partner 9:16 to create a series of video ads featuring four different runners and walkers planning to take part – Bressie, Kathryn Thomas, Manal Rostom and Mark Pollock himself – along with the date of the event.

Users could swipe up to learn more about Run in the Dark and join a virtual team for each athlete, with the team leaders posting weekly work out challenges to help participants train for Run in the Dark Virtual.

“By keeping our focus on producing a virtual event with the same values as a live event, people felt that they were part of a global movement with thousands of others, even though they were running within a 5km radius of their home on their own,” said Cunniffe.

The bright, lively ads primarily ran in the UK and Ireland, while also being shown to select audiences in Australia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Breaking barriers

The campaign reached 1.57 million people, with Isabella Jorgensen, a creative strategist with Facebook’s Creative Shop, remarking that the campaign had strong engagement in terms of its shareability and the volume of comments it attracted.

A brand lift study showed +33.1 points increase in ad recall lift, and a +2.6 point lift in action intent. This was reflected in sign ups to the Run in the Dark Virtual event: 17,000. This compares with the 2019 in-person event, which had 15,000 sign ups.

“One lesson I would share with other event organizers is not to underestimate how much time and effort is needed for meaningful community engagement,” said Cunniffe. ”In fact, you should prioritize community engagement, whether a live or virtual event. It can take a lot of manpower; on event day for Run in the Dark Virtual we had six people online all day. But it’s worth it for the level of customer satisfaction you will get when you reply promptly to people’s queries, particularly if they are time sensitive.

“This singular focus on our community is a learning we will take with us to live events.”

Facebook’s industry insight

Isabella Jorgensen, a creative strategist with Facebook’s Creative Shop, added: “By bringing Run in the Dark online through our platforms, it went from being a local event to a global one. The results show the potential that lies ahead when we blur the lines between the offline and online world and create events that work simultaneously on both.

”By tearing down the physical limitations, we allow a whole new audience to join and help the movement grow. Looking forward, it will be interesting to explore the different expressions that such offline-online experiences can take.”

Get inspired with more ideas for social good at Facebook’s dedicated hub and discover the tools your brand can use to build communities and give back.

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